Politics is a fickle world. When Transport for London came out in September with a series of proposals to strangle ride-sharing service Uber with reams of red tape, it seemed the powers-that-be had become convinced of a deep groundswell of public support for the plucky cabbies’ in their fight with the brash American invader. Unfortunately for TfL and London mayor Boris Johnson though, that turned out to be utterly wrong.
Londoners actually just want to be able to get from A to B cheaply, easily and safely without such bizarre encumbrances as having to wait five minutes for a ride even if one is 30 seconds away. Having realised this, Johnson et al have done a quick about face, dropping the most onerous of the proposals, including the above-mentioned five minute rule.
Victory for disruptive technology and consumer rights? Sort of. TfL hasn’t entirely switched sides, seeking more stringent insurance and English language requirements for Uber drivers and better fare estimates (these are not unreasonable, it must be said), while Johnson is considering taking away private hire vehicles’ exemption from the congestion charge (that, on the other hand...).
Apparently his concern is about the impact of Uber cars on air quality, despite the fact that Uber and other ride-hailing apps result in a far more efficient use of cars than either private drivers or roaming black cabs. If congestion and the resulting air pollution are the problem, modern technology like Uber could easily be part of the solution.
Uber may not be in the clear yet, but at least one major road block has been removed from its path. Investors and commuters alike will no doubt be pleased. All that’s lacking now is some sort of disruptive app that summons tube trains or prods striking drivers to get back to work – but somehow that might be wishful thinking.